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Phantom Stallion #22: Wild Honey

Phantom Stallion #22: Wild Honey

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Phantom Stallion #22: Wild Honey

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256 Seiten
4 Stunden
Apr 21, 2009


The Phantom's lead mare is injured, and Samantha wants to help her. But she can't call the vet -- what if he won't let the mare return to the wild?

So Sam starts treating the mare's injuries in secret. But the horse seems awfully calm for a mustang, and she matches the description of a missing mare from California. Is Sam helping a mustang, or has she accidentally stolen someone's horse?

Apr 21, 2009

Über den Autor

Terri Farley is the author of the wildly popular Phantom Stallion series, which has sold one million copies. For her new series, Wild Horse Island, Terri volunteered on a horse ranch in Hawaii for three weeks. After much coaxing, she returned to her husband in Verdi, Nevada, where she lives and writes.

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Phantom Stallion #22 - Terri Farley


Chapter One

Leather creaked as Samantha Forster swung onto her horse’s back and tested the saddle’s position. This was no time to make a mistake.

Dawn’s golden shimmer still hovered beyond the peaks of the Calico Mountains and the two-story white ranch house stood silent, with only the kitchen light glowing, but Sam was ready to ride.

Her bay mustang Ace flicked his black-edged ears forward. When she didn’t urge him ahead, his ears slanted sideways, then back. He snorted plumes of vapor into the September morning, just as eager to leave as Sam was.

Now? Sam asked.

She did her best to sound patient, though it wasn’t like she hadn’t ridden in predawn darkness plenty of times before. But her stepmother Brynna stood barefoot on the front porch, making sure Sam didn’t leave without permission.

At three thirty-six A.M., Sam had heard Tempest squeal. The filly was barely three months old and she was Sam’s baby. Eyes half open, Sam had lurched out of bed as if a fishing hook had lodged in the center of her chest and her filly’s cry was reeling her in.

Sam had beaten Dad down the stairs but his whiplash voice had stopped her before she reached the front door.

Samantha. You don’t know what you’re runnin’ into.

Outside, Blaze, the ranch watchdog, had been barking. He hadn’t sounded ferocious, just watchful; but Sam had known Dad wouldn’t take her translation of dog talk as a guarantee of safety.

I’ll look out the window first, she’d protested loudly.

Too loudly, it turned out. Her voice kind of echoed off Dad, who’d come downstairs, too.

Sam pushed back the curtains covering the window over the kitchen sink and stared toward Tempest’s corral. Dad stood just inches behind Sam, but he let her look first.

Wow. If she’d been an instant later or even blinked as she stared out the window, Sam wouldn’t have caught that glimpse of waving paleness. If she hadn’t dreamed of the Phantom’s moonlight visit almost every night, the saddle horses’ neighing and Dark Sunshine’s circling hoofbeats wouldn’t have made her stare past Tempest’s pasture to see the silver stallion dash up the hillside, away from civilization.

Dad, did you see—

I saw him. Can’t think of one good thing about him lurkin’ around like that, either.

Sam had stared at her father in disbelief. Even though he’d seen the Phantom, too, Dad had actually snorted when she’d insisted she had to ride after the stallion. He’d forbidden her to leave until daybreak and he hadn’t been nice about it. Her disappointment didn’t affect him either.

But, Dad…, Sam had moaned as he’d turned away from her and started back to his bedroom.

Quit your sighin’, Samantha, he’d said. I can feel the draft from here.

Then he’d continued back upstairs without another word, despite the excitement that kept their saddle horses neighing and restless all night long.

Sam had stayed downstairs. She wouldn’t disobey Dad, but her mind kept planning her escape—as if she would.

There’d been no chance to sneak out, anyway.

Brynna, restless herself in her last months of pregnancy, had stayed up to study maps as big as beach blankets, which she’d spread out on the kitchen table.

Just the same, Sam had gotten dressed, then saddled Ace in the darkness, making sure the latigo strap that held the saddle in place lay flat and snug. She’d taken a stupid dive out of the saddle a few days ago. Since then, Ace seemed to be waiting for another mistake.

Like the one she kept picturing right now, Sam thought. She should not be imagining herself leaning low on Ace’s neck, urging him into a rash and reckless gallop up the rise, along the ridge and after the Phantom.

She should be keeping her eyes focused on Brynna, who’d appointed herself clock boss.

I don’t know what you hope to accomplish, Brynna said, finally, pulling her robe a little closer.

There must be a reason the Phantom was here, Sam explained. He almost never crosses over to our side of the river. Please, can I go now?

A rooster scratched the dirt noisily, then hopped to the henhouse roof, fluttered his feathers, and gave a rusty crow.

Sam looked pointedly toward the bird. Even the chickens knew it was time to get moving.

Okay, Brynna surrendered. Be careful.

Always, Sam said.

Despite Brynna’s skeptical groan, Sam reined Ace, her bay mustang, away from the porch. She’d barely thought of shifting forward when the gelding set off across the ranch yard at a speedy jog that threatened to break into a lope if she’d allow it.

Not yet, Sam told her horse, and his smooth gait turned to a pouty, hammering trot.

Sam had already opened the gates in the old pasture. She angled Ace through the first one, then let out her reins, letting Ace lope over the short, crunchy grass of the shortcut while she looked up, toward the trail head.

Other horses called after them, crowding against their fences as Ace bounded through the second gate and up the trail that ran behind River Bend Ranch. It was steep and crowded with sagebrush at first.

Careful, Sam told her horse as the path began weaving through granite boulders. The footing disappeared between bleached drifts of cheatgrass, then turned dusty and choked with dry brush. Each time their passing cracked a twig, it gave off the smell of summer’s end.

As soon as Ace reached the ridge top, Sam glanced back over her shoulder. A toy house, miniature barn, two little bunkhouses, and a bridge made up the River Bend Ranch. She was leaving it behind and riding into wild horse country. Smiling.

She and Ace were following the Phantom. The silver stallion was roaming out of his home territory and Sam had to know why.

We would have had a better chance of finding him if we’d started an hour ago, Sam grumbled to Ace.

As if he knew and was determined to make up for lost time, Ace thrust his tongue against his snaffle. Sam shortened her reins while she decided what to do next.

Which way should she turn? The ridgeline trail stretched twelve long miles and it was mostly used by wildlife. Last fall, a cougar had roved the length of it, using downhill paths to hunt near Three Ponies Ranch, River Bend Ranch, and Gold Dust Ranch. Early that summer, Sam had seen deer standing in the last snow patches on the ridge, taking refuge from biting insects that avoided the cold. Sam had also seen New Moon, the Phantom’s night-black son, on this path, and once—now twice—the Phantom himself.

Left hand steady on her reins, Sam leaned out, sighting past Ace’s front hooves. One good thing about waiting until sunrise was that she might be able to see the stallion’s hoofprints and figure out which way he’d headed.

But it wasn’t as easy as it sounded.

Sam knew the Phantom didn’t travel right down the middle of a path unless he was being pursued. Instinct kept him walking alongside the trails, through mountain mahogany, pinion pine, and other desert groves that might hide him.

Sam scanned the dusty spots between grass and brush. She saw a few pebbles, ants busy against the coming cold of autumn, and lots of different shades of brown dirt.

I’m no good at this, Sam muttered to Ace, but she didn’t tell even her horse that she could use Jake Ely’s help. Her friend Jake read tracks and other natural signs as easily as she read books.

Sam cued Ace to turn right. Tracks or not, she’d never known the Phantom to head for Gold Dust Ranch. Okay, once, a long time ago, but turning right made more sense. This way would take her toward Deerpath Ranch and Aspen Creek. She’d sighted wild horses in both those places where water and forage remained through late summer and fall.

Sam drew rein at Aspen Creek about an hour later. Birds asked warbling questions as they woke. The grove around her was hazy with pollen and all the prettier because this year no cougars stalked the area.

As she’d watched for horse tracks, Sam had remembered Jake’s warnings from last year. She’d checked the ground for scrapes kicked up by cougars’ hind feet and tree trunks gouged by big cats that used them as scratching posts. She’d seen neither, and now she could relax.

Gold leaves swirled on blue water in a whirlpool between rocks in the creek.

The sun had risen and though most of the tracks she’d seen belonged to mule deer, every now and then Sam had seen the V-bottomed pattern of a horse’s hoof. Besides, it just made sense for the Phantom to stop here. If she were a horse, Sam thought, she’d spend the morning here under the yellow canopies of white-barked aspen trees.

As Ace drank, Sam watched the fallen leaves race between the river rocks. Like valiant little canoes, they followed currents and eddies, bound for the La Charla River.

A clear hoofprint was pressed deep into the mud a few yards downstream, but it looked bigger than the Phantom’s.

It probably just filled with water and oozed out, Sam reasoned to her horse, but Ace was busy drinking.

And then he startled and shied.

Creek water splashed up, spotting Sam’s dusty boots. Muzzle dripping, Ace stared and she turned to follow his gaze.

She squinted downstream, trying to make out whatever he’d seen, some form camouflaged by the aspen grove’s jumble of sunbeams and shadows.

Ace’s ears pointed and his nostrils opened wide. She saw nothing and heard only water tumbling over rocks. And one thing she didn’t smell was the meaty, dirty laundry smell of mountain lion.

What is it, boy? Sam wondered, but she didn’t ask aloud, just gave her horse enough rein that he could investigate and take her closer.

It was probably just a deer. Ace was jumpy and excited this morning. But maybe she should unbuckle her saddlebags and grab her binoculars. After her best friend Jen’s accident a couple weeks ago, Sam had decided to start carrying a few emergency supplies along with her.

Except, well, making the decision was about as far as she’d progressed in stashing stuff in her saddlebags. But she knew she’d tucked her binoculars inside the leather pouch.

What was…? The sound must have been wind in the dry leaves, but no.

Ace’s stare had shifted to the other side of the shallow creek. Whatever he was watching must have moved, because his head lifted. When a faint neigh rumbled from him as he gazed uphill, she knew it had to be another horse.

And then she saw it.

The mustang stood all alone. It wasn’t the Phantom, but Sam recognized the wild horse just the same.

The color of dark honey, the Phantom’s lead mare didn’t move. She didn’t answer Ace or make any other sound, but something in the horse’s solitude and stance told Sam the mare was in pain.

She wouldn’t cry out if she was hurt, Sam thought. A prey animal in distress—even a big one like a horse—would make an easy meal for a predator.

And it didn’t take Sam long to come up with a cause for the mare’s discomfort.

The fight with Hotspot, Sam thought, and she could see it all over again.

The Appaloosa mare had gone missing from Gold Dust Ranch, and had been running with the Phantom’s herd. Feeling threatened by the lead mare, Hotspot had lunged with teeth exposed. When her bite had missed, Hotspot had wheeled and launched a double-hooved kick at the lead mare, this dark palomino now standing on the hillside. Sam imagined the echo of those striking hooves.

Wild horses avoided serious fights because instinct told them too much was at stake. An injured horse, unable to travel with the herd, was vulnerable. But Hotspot wasn’t a mustang. She hadn’t known the rules and risks of being wild.

The lead mare stood off-balance, as if she were trying to keep the weight off her right front leg. Sam would bet a closer look would show her that the mare was holding her hoof off the ground. But she didn’t urge Ace closer. That could spook the lonely horse into hurting herself further.

Sam’s mind spun. She had to think fast. How could she help the wild horse?

She was no vet, no biologist, not even very good at roping cows. If she got close enough to rope the mare, what then? Tie her and try to examine her legs? Even a tame horse’s hooves could be dangerous, she had proof of that right before her eyes.

Had the mare been left behind? How unfair was that, Sam thought, a lead mare who couldn’t lead had been abandoned by those she’d protected.

The mare was watching her.

If she didn’t know better, Sam would think the mare was actually appealing to her for help. Of course that was impossible. If anything, the horse was considering Sam’s power as a threat.

The best thing for the horse was to be with her herd, even if she couldn’t lead.

Sam’s mind circled back to the reason she was out here in the first place. Where was the Phantom?

I’m trusting you to stay ground-tied, Sam told Ace, though a squirm of uneasiness passed through her. She tried to talk herself out of it.

Why should Ace go anywhere? He had food and water right here. He was a tried and tested cowpony. He’d be just fine.

Sam lifted the saddlebags from her saddle. Without looking inside, she faced the creek. What she had, she had. It would be a waste of time to paw through her saddlebags to see what paltry supplies she carried, before crossing the water.

She took a deep breath and unfastened her rope from her saddle, too. She widened the coil and slipped it over her head and one arm, wearing it across her chest like a bandolier. Lame as she was with a lariat, Sam took all the tools she had.

Aspen Creek was low, barely covering the creek bed and rocks, and it was narrow, maybe ten feet across.

Piece of cake, Sam thought as she sat, eased off her boots and socks, then left them on the shore.

She took four steps before the cold registered on her skin and in her brain. Then, Sam gasped. The creek sent icicle jolts between her toes. She fought the urge to curl over and grab her feet with her warm hands. If she hadn’t been holding her saddlebags, she might have done it.

Piece of cake? her mind screeched. Piece of ten-million-year-old permafrozen glacier, maybe.

What had she been thinking? On an early September morning when it was barely light she was wading across a creek that would be frozen soon. How dumb was that?

Except she knew what she had been thinking, and the loose logic of it still held. She was thinking the pretty mare who’d helped the Phantom rule his wild herd needed help. And no one else was here to give it.

Sam bit her lip and took another step. How could she keep walking? Maybe counting would help. In Spanish. That would focus her mind on something besides the arctic pain.

Uno, dos…Oh, why couldn’t her feet just go numb?

Tres…But not totally numb.

Quatro. Oh watch out! Not so numb that she couldn’t keep her balance.

Cinco…Crossing the creek was tricky. Her feet must sense the difference between sand and round, rolling rocks, or she’d fall flat on her face and…Seis…the huge splash would send the injured mare running.

Two more clumsy steps took Sam ashore. She tried not to pant like a dog from relief. But she only had to try for a minute, because close up, the mare took Sam’s breath away.

Dark butterscotch with a creamy mane and tail, the mare was muscular and beautiful. And what Sam had thought before was true. The mare looked directly into Sam’s eyes.

The palomino’s expression was so intelligent and expectant, Sam had to choke back the urge to talk to her. Wild things didn’t croon sweet words to calm each other, so Sam stayed silent, but it wasn’t easy.

Although the mare’s eyes took in the saddlebags and rope in a glance, she didn’t bolt. She stood still, favoring that right front hoof, holding it such a slight distance above the ground that Sam wasn’t sure she could even slip a piece of paper under it.

But Sam knew she wasn’t mistaken. The muscles of the mare’s left front leg were bunched and shaking as if they’d held the extra load for hours. Or days.

Sam knew she had to inspect the mare’s injury if she expected to help. She let her shoulders droop. She took slow steps, moving closer until she was only a few feet away. Without moving her head, Sam lowered her eyes.

The mare’s leg was swollen. Just above her hoof, a fly buzzed around a black blend of crust and goo.

To get a better look at the wound, Sam bent her knees a fraction of an inch, then a full inch, watching the mare for reaction.

The wild horse did nothing until Ace squealed.

Sam had to look away from the mare.

Ace was all right, but he was staring upstream again, and suddenly Sam knew the honey-colored mare hadn’t been abandoned after all.

Moving through a tunnel of branches laden with gold leaves, parting the pollen, shadows and sunlight, the Phantom came toward her, striding down the river like a king.

Chapter Two

The mare’s agitated whinny rang in Sam’s ear.

From her squatting position, Sam looked up to see the palomino directing all of her attention at the Phantom. The human at her feet was forgotten.

Sniffing and tossing her head, the mare tried to move forward. She made two steps before her hoof drew up. Struggling for balance, she swayed. Sun glinted off the long gentle slant of her shoulder and Sam scooted back.

The mare didn’t fall, but only luck saved her. Sam reminded herself to stay alert. The horse could fall on her. She could be slammed to the earth or struck as the mare struggled to rise. And she’d be no help to the Phantom’s lead mare if she was injured, too.

The attempt to go meet the Phantom

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